Succession to land

Succession is the process that passes Māori land from one generation to the next.

“Succession” is the legal term used when a person dies and their shares/interests in Māori land pass on to their whānau.

There are strict rules around who Māori land can be passed on to.  This is to make sure that Māori land is kept with the people who whakapapa to it.

Succession is a legal process and must go through the Māori Land Court.

Who can succeed to Māori land?

The rules about who can succeed to shares/interests in Māori land are set out in
Te Ture Whenua Māori Act and depend on whether or not the person who died left a will.

If there is no will

You should look at Section 109 of the Act to see exactly who can succeed if there is no will as the rules are very detailed.

Generally the land interests will pass to the children, and this can include whangai children, or if there are no children, to other family members as set out in the rules.  There is also a provision for husbands/wives and civil union partners to have use of the land interest – meaning for example that they could have the income from the land – during their life, or until they remarry or are in a defacto relationship.

If there is a will

Any will involving Māori freehold land interests must meet the rules set out in Te Ture Whenua Māori Act.  Section 108 sets out the people that land interests can be left to.

The Act is very detailed on who can be included in the will. In general it is people who are direct relatives or members the hapū associated with the land or other owners of the land who are members of the hapū.  Whangai relatives can also be included.

If you are making a will, you should talk to the Māori Land Court to make sure that your wishes are in line with what the law will allow.

Who decides who will succeed?

Even if there is a will, an application for succession has to be made to the Māori Land Court.

The Court will look at the rules in the Act, and may  ask about the whakapapa of the person who has passed on so that they can decide who is legally entitled to succeed to the land interests, and in what proportion.

Once the Court has decided who will succeed, their decision will be recorded in a Court Order that passes the land interest to the people named in it.

Who can make the application for succession?

The application to the Māori Land Court can be made by an ‘administrator’ or 'executor' of the estate (a person with the right to deal with the assets of the person who has passed on), by a family member, or by anyone who believes they are entitled to succeed.

You can download an application form from the Māori Land Court’s website. Māori Land Court staff can provide further guidance on this process.

Why bother with succession?

As an owner of a beneficial interest in the land you can be part of making decisions involving the land, including how it is used and developed, and get a share of any income that is distributed from the land.

Just as importantly, succession maintains the whānau and hapū ties to the land that has been passed down by the tūpuna.  It’s about you, your children and your mokopuna and their descendants being always connected to the whenua.

What do I do if I think I am entitled to succession?

If a family member has died and you believe you may be entitled to succeed them, the first thing to do is get in touch with the Māori Land Court.  They can help you find out about the land interests and what documents and information you will need to make an application to succeed.

You can:

  • Visit or ring your nearest court – see a list of where the courts are.
  • Go to the Māori Land Court website to find out about applying for succession
  • Search the Māori Land Online database to see which land blocks the person you are looking for may have interests in.  You can search this database by the person’s name, the name of the block, or even through the map.  This database provides a great deal of information on each block such as who the administrator is, a list of all the owners and their shareholding, and more.

If the land block is administered by the Māori Trustee, you can also
contact Te Tumu Paeroa for details about the block.

How do I apply for succession?

All applications for succession go through the Māori Land Court.

You can download an application form from the Māori Land Court’s website, although it is helpful to have contacted the Court beforehand to find out exactly what documents and information you need for your application.

As part of the application process, you or a family member may have to attend the Court hearing to answer any questions the Judge might have.

The length of the process will depend on how complex the succession is, and also on how much information you can provide to help the Court make its decisions.

Note that it’s not enough to register with your iwi – succession is a Court process and you will have to apply directly to the Court.

What can I do to make succession easy for my whānau?

The most important thing you can do to help your children and other members of your whānau with succession is to talk to them about the whenua that you have interests in. Tell them where it is, what it’s called, and who administers it (is it, for example,
the Māori Trustee, a trust, or a Māori incorporation?).

You can also help by telling them:

  • All of the names you might be known by
  • All of the names of your parents and brothers and sisters
  • Anything they need to know about other people who might be entitled to succeed you.

There are also some other steps you could take:

  • One option is to make a will with your wishes for your interests in Māori land.
  • Another option is to gift your interests to your children while you are alive. For information about how to do this, see the Māori Land Court publication Transferring Māori Land Shares.
  • You can also consider the option of setting up a whānau trust, which will keep your ownership interests together and see them used for the benefit of whānau as a whole. To do this, you must apply to the Māori Land Court. For information about how to do this, see the Court’s web page frequently asked questions about Māori land trusts, and the booklet Māori Land Trusts in the publications section.

Can I get help with succession?

Māori Land Court staff can help you find out what land blocks you may have interests in, and with the process of making an application for succession.

If the land block is administered by Te Tumu Paeroa we can help you find information on the block, and what name the interests are registered in.

What happens after succession?

Once the legal process is completed, you become a beneficial owner in the land and will be entitled to be part of discussions and decision making about the land as well as information about how it is performing.  You will also be entitled to receive a share of any income from it.

If the land is administered by the Māori Trustee, you will become one of Te Tumu Paeroa's clients. See the trustees section of this website for more information about what you can expect from a trustee.

Staying connected with your  whenua is important, so make sure you keep your contact details up-to-date with your trustees.


Note: Te Tumu Paeroa is the organisation that supports the Māori Trustee to carry out his duties, functions and responsibilities.